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US urges 'compromise' as talks set to resume

July 29, 2013 8:43 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 1, 2013 12:12 P.M.)
WASHINGTON (AFP) -- The United States on Monday urged Israelis and Palestinians to work in good faith and make "compromises" ahead of the first direct talks in three years chasing a long-elusive peace.

In a bid to shepherd months of tough negotiations that lie ahead, US Secretary of State John Kerry named seasoned diplomat Martin Indyk as the US special envoy to the talks.

The negotiations were to start later Monday with an iftar dinner hosted by Kerry with Israeli chief negotiator Tzipi Livni and her Palestinian counterpart Saeb Erekat.

President Barack Obama welcomed the imminent start of the talks, calling it a "promising step" forward but warning that "hard choices remain ahead."

"The most difficult work of these negotiations is ahead, and I am hopeful that both the Israelis and Palestinians will approach these talks in good faith," Obama said.

The United States was ready to support both sides "with the goal of achieving two states, living side by side in peace and security," Obama added.

Speaking just hours before the first face-to-face public meeting since September 2010, Kerry again praised the courage shown by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Mahmoud Abbas in agreeing to resume negotiations.

"Many difficult choices lie ahead for the negotiators and for the leaders as we seek reasonable compromises on tough, complicated, emotional and symbolic issues," he said.

"I think reasonable compromises has to be a keystone of all of this effort. I know the negotiations are going to be tough, but I also know that the consequences of not trying could be worse."

Indyk, 62, who has twice served as US ambassador to Israel and participated in the failed 2000 Camp David summit under then president Bill Clinton, said he was taking on "a daunting and humbling" challenge.

But he insisted: "It has been my conviction for 40 years that peace is possible."

The dream of a Middle East peace deal has for decades been a chimera chased by US presidents, but talks last collapsed in September 2010 amid deep distrust between the two sides.

Israel and the Palestinians remain deeply divided over so-called "final status issues" -- including the fate of Jerusalem, claimed by both as a capital, the right of return for Palestinian refugees, the borders of a future Palestinian state and the fate of dozens of Jewish settlements scattered across the occupied West Bank.

After months of dogged diplomacy, Kerry on his sixth trip to the region earlier in July wrested from both sides an accord setting out the basis for new negotiations.

He said Indyk had already won the respect of both sides in the conflict and that he "understands that there is now a path forward and we must follow that path with urgency."

But Livni, speaking after meeting UN chief Ban Ki-moon in New York, said the path ahead was "going to be very tough and problematic."

State Department officials said the first meetings would aim to set out the procedures for the talks, and although Kerry is believed to have set a timeline, it remains unknown how long it is, with reports speaking of six months to a year.

"The meeting is to define what will come next in the negotiations," Senior PLO official Hanan Ashrawi told AFP.

"There must be a timeline and commitment from both sides on what they'll agree about. We hope for something good."

As a first step, Israel said Sunday it would release 104 Palestinians imprisoned before the 1993 Oslo accords -- some of whom are said to have been involved in attacks on Israelis.

Erekat welcomed the Israeli move. "We consider this an important step and hope to be able to seize the opportunity provided by the American administration's efforts," he told AFP.

But Israeli media on Monday lashed out at the decision. "The murderers will go free," thundered the front-page headline in the top-selling daily Yediot Aharonot.

Jerusalem Post diplomatic correspondent Herb Keinon predicted these "murderers will be hailed as heroes in Hebron and Ramallah and Jenin," and urged Palestinians to show they are serious about peace by not celebrating their release.

Israeli President Shimon Peres, on a visit to Latvia, hailed the resumption of peace talks.

"We want to establish a two-state solution of a Palestinian state beside the state of Israel, living in peace and friendship and bringing an end to all conflict, which is so necessary today for all the people in the Middle East," he said.

"The Middle East is in a stormy situation. We hope the Middle East will overcome its storm and land in a port of peace."

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